Robotic labs for high-speed genetic research are on the rise

Mar 01, 2018

IN THE basement of Imperial College sits the London DNA Foundry. The word “foundry” calls forth images of liquid metal being poured into moulds—of the early phase of the Industrial Revolution, in other words. This foundry is, however, determinedly modern. Liquid is indeed being moved around and poured. But it is in minuscule quantities, and it is not metal. Instead, it is an aqueous suspension of the genetic codes of life.

The laboratory is an example of a wider movement. Similar biofoundries are being set up around the world, from the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, via Silicon Valley, to the National University of Singapore. All offer ways of centralising the donkey work of genetic-engineering research. Instead of biotechnology companies buying and operating their own laboratories, foundries will do it for them.

London DNA Foundry’s operations room is filled with boxy devices, each designed to do one particular operation, such as pipetting, repeatedly and quickly....


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